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ELL Group Files Brief in Ala. Immigration Case

An advocacy group for English-language learners has filed a "friend of the court" brief backing a class action that challenges Alabama's new law requiring educators to record the immigration status of students in schools. The Somerville, Mass.-based Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, Inc., has filed the brief on its own behalf as well as for the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Hispanic College Fund, and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

The new Alabama law, believed to be the first of its kind signed by a state governor, requires educators to report to Alabama's board of education whether students are undocumented or not. The law, known informally as H.B. 56, also requires police officers to make "a reasonable attempt" to determine the immigration status of any person while making a "lawful stop, detention, or arrest."

As a premise for mandating such actions, the law says: "The State of Alabama finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged when public agencies within this state provide public benefits without verifying immigration status."

The friend of the court brief asks a federal court, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Northeastern Division, to block the law or declare it unconstitutional. It states that the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, gave children the right to a free education in this country regardless of their immigration status. It contends that provisions in H.B. 56 requiring educators to inquire about the immigration status of children enrolling in Alabama schools "are intended to and will deter immigrant parents from registering their children for school." Supporters of the law, though, have said publicly that the law is intended to give the state a way to measure the cost of educating undocumented children, not keep them from registering for school.

The brief filed by the advocacy group attempts to allay any fears by the law's supporters that instruction of ELLs is costing Alabama a lot of money. It cites federal statistics that only 2.6 percent of Alabama's students are English-language learners. It points out, as well, that in 2010, Alabama received $3.8 million in federal funds to pay for the education of English-language learners. It says that scholars have found that access to government benefits in the United States is not a motive for illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, Alabama's department of education has released guidance for schools on how to respond to the new law by coding students whose parents produce a U.S. birth certificate with a "1" and students whose parents can't or refuse to show documents proving their children are legally in the country with a "0" beginning Sept. 1.

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